In Iowa, the fairies came out in spring, building temporary homes in melted snow pooled between half-buried tree roots, bordered by mud and moss. Walking home from school, I’d peer into tiny caves formed by icicles dripping into snow banks. Fairies glinted in these shadowy caves, but then I’d blink and see only snow crystals. As spring progressed and their homes dissolved, the fairies fled to the scarlet tulips and delicate lilies-of-the-valley lining the brick path to the vacant lot.
On a sunny May afternoon, Jenny and I held a fairy tea party. Leaves for plates, acorn tops for cups, and a feast of clover, sheep sorrel and chamomile. Afterward, we lay on our backs in the grassy vacant lot and closed our eyes in the sun, watching red and black pictures form on the insides of our eyelids.
“What do you see?” she asked.
“A witch. No … a genie. In a bottle. She has long red hair and is dancing slowly.”
“A genie like the one on Scooby Doo?”
“Kinda.” But her eyes were more slanted, and sometimes they were on the wrong part of her face. When she smiled, her teeth were sharp like a cat’s. “What do you see?” I rolled over. Jenny’s eyes were open and staring into the wan blue sky.
“God?” I asked, puzzled. “What’s He doing?”
But she didn’t make sense after that. She only said parts of sentences, and then repeated herself under her breath. When I complained, she solemnly explained that the doctor called it “echolalia.” “I can’t help it. It’s hereditary,”she said, not missing a single syllable of these strange new words.
“What’s that mean?” I watched the lilies-of-the-valley swaying at the foot of the rock wall, the one we were supposed to stay away from because of the snakes there.
“It means Mommy does it, too.” She paused. “I’m not supposed to do it.”
“…posed to do it,” she whispered again.
“Oh,” I said.
In October, they sent her to a special school. When she came home to visit, I asked what she did there. “They make us sit in a room and draw things, and we’re supposed to talk, but I don’t know what to say.” She pulled on her braid and wrinkled her nose.
“Did you tell them you see God?” I asked. We were standing under the big sycamore tree in her yard, poking the tree roots with sticks, although the fairy pools had long dried.
She rolled her eyes and went back to scratching in the dirt. But we didn’t dig up any fairies, so we walked back to my house. When we got there, I peeked around the kitchen corner. My mom seldom had guests, but Jenny’s mom, skinny and wild-haired, rocked in my grandmother’s rocking chair, holding a steaming cup. My mother was quiet and wore a funny expression, like she wanted to say something nice but couldn’t think of anything.
“I tried to run away,” I heard Jenny’s mom say. But then they saw us and made us play upstairs so they could discuss grown-up things they thought we wouldn’t understand. So we trudged to my room and flopped down in front of the doll house. I picked up my Ken doll and turned to Jenny. “What was your Mom running away from?”
“My dad, I think,” Jenny said, brushing Barbie’s hair, even though it was actually Strawberry Shortcake’s comb.
“He made me touch his private parts.”
I walked Ken up the doll house stairs to the closet, where I made him take out a new coat and tennis shoes. I put the shoes on Ken. “Why did he do that?”
She shrugged, not looking at me. “It felt good, I guess.”
“Oh.” Ken walked back down to the kitchen and said hello to Skipper as he passed. He waved to Barbie, but Barbie was busy in Jenny’s beauty parlor.
“Are they going to send you away again?” I asked.
“...away again?” She set Barbie on the doll house sofa and stood up. “Probably. They always want to send me away somewhere.”
They did, and I did not see her again. These days, however, I prefer to think the fairies took her back.
Musical Inspiration: Playing in the background and inspiring my phrases was the elegant ambiance of Numina. I won’t pick a particular song since they’re all so intertwined. Check out Numina’s beautiful album “Symbiotic Spaces” to hear one of my favorite artists.